January 8, 2004, by Teaching at Nottingham

If lecturing is a performance, how do you prepare?

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Christopher Barnatt: “A lot of people tend to think that you prepare a lecture by looking at the content and looking at the actual slides etc. When you think about a large group in particular, you have to think that there’s the content and there’s actually the delivery, or the performance of it.

“And it is an explicit issue.

“You’ll find a lot of people in the University still saying “That’s playing to the gallery”. My view is that if you don’t play to the gallery with a large group, you don’t play to anybody.

“And therefore you should actually think explicitly “how are you going to perform this material?”

“Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you plan out how you’re going to perform a whole lecture.

“If you think of people who are good performers, and my background tends to come from television entertainment so I have a slightly skewed perspective, you tend to remember performers not for entire periods of time, but for very small things they do.

“So, with any large group I will always plan one or two set pieces per lecture – something you’re going to do in terms of the delivery that people will go “Oh yes, he did that thing”. And it might be funny, it might be clever, it might be some sort of stunt or whatever, but something that they’ll go “Oh yes, he’s the guy that did that thing” and that actually makes it memorable, it puts some punctuation into the thing.

“And if you do a few of those now and then you’ll get known as “That’s the person who did that really interesting lecture”. It might be that the rest of your time you’re standing there being incredibly dull, but they’ll put that halo around you where you did a few things that a) it captured them but b) it showed that you’d thought about the fact that you’d got their attention.

“I think you have to remember that large group teaching is a privilege: you’re getting an awful lot of human attention given to you.

“If you teach 200 people for 10 weeks for an hour, that’s one man-year’s of attention being given to you. And, you know, you have to do something to actually make it worth them doing that.

“And therefore, I think that planning content and delivery of content is actually part of the job.”

Mary Chapple: “I think that’s really important. When I first started teaching I always used to think about the questions I was going to ask as well, and I often would have had those written in advance in my lecture notes. There’s nothing worse than asking a question to a large group and it sinks like a stone, never to be seen again. But if you ask the right question at the right time it will actually get the students thinking. And if you plan that before you actually go into the class then I think that’s actually quite a helpful thing to do as well.”

Wyn Morgan: “Often I think with voice (and excuse mine today as I was, ahem, shouting at a football referee last night!), it’s not so much the volume as the intonation. It’s the monotonicity of the voice that completely switches people off; wherever it’s pitched, low or high, if it’s flat, it’s incredibly dull. And you can be saying the most important things, but if it’s a dull tone, then people switch off. So it’s more about the intonation than the volume, although the volume is important.

“However, do draw on your peers in your School, with the observation process, that’s extremely important. It’s amazing how many little things can be brought to your attention by someone just sitting in your class saying “Do you realise you do this? Do you realise you say OK at the end of every sentence?””

Mary: “That’s what they tell me!”

Wyn: “So do draw on your peers as well. It is ultimately a reflection on your experience. The more you do it, the more relaxed you become, the more expressive you become. Unfortunately that is experience and time, but there are ways you can develop it at the beginning.”

Christopher Barnatt (Nottingham University Business School),
Mary Chapple (School of Nursing, Midwifery & Physiotherapy), 
Wyn Morgan (School of Economics).

Extracts from a panel discussion on large group teaching at the January 2004 PGCHE Introductory Event. Produced January 2004.
This video was originally published as part of PESL’s Teaching at Nottingham collection.

Posted in LecturesTeaching